Poverty in Toronto

By Liam Lane-Adams

In this project I will examine poverty in Toronto and how it is changing and increasing. I will also write about the causes of poverty. At the end, I will list some possible solutions.

Examples of Poverty
The three main examples of poverty are: homelessness, food banks and health problems. Homelessness is the most serious stage of poverty. The definition of homelessness is the lack of housing for a person or persons. This is usually caused by a lack of money. The two options most homeless people have are: going to a shelter or living on the street. Both of these options are hard. If you live on the street, you can barely get enough food and have to contend with either freezing cold and snow, or a boiling sun. Neither is it pleasant on a cold, rainy day.

Health is also a large problem. Many diseases can be picked up through living outside. Some diseases are: different types of skin infections, lice, scabies, the flu, pneumonia and TB. Though all of these diseases can be treated, when you are homeless, you don’t have access to healthcare. So if a homeless person has TB, she/he is more likely to die because he/she can’t get his/her injections.

If you go to a shelter, these diseases and more, are very easily spread. Other problems of shelters are fights and people stealing your possessions. The other disadvantage of shelters is that there aren’t enough of them. Overcrowding is a big problem too. The more people, the more arguments.

The second main example of poverty is food banks. These are places where you can get free food, if you can’t buy your own. The people who use food banks include: people with low paying jobs (e.g. McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Home Depot), homeless people and families with only one person with a job. Amazingly, 38% of the users of food banks are children. Also, even if two parents are working, they might still have to use food banks. To spend 30% of your income on housing is considered way too much, yet, on average, food bank users pay 65% of their incomes on housing. When food banks were first introduced, they were meant as a temporary measure. Food banks have now become a necessity that many people rely on.

Increasing Poverty
Poverty has been increasing for years. Around 1980, Scarborough and the other suburbs were getting poorer. They once were full of middle class families, but when the housing in the city got too expensive, all the poor people moved into the suburbs. As the suburbs got poorer, the middle class families moved out. When the suburbs suddenly got so poor, there weren’t any special programs for them. In 1981, there were 4 very high poverty neighbourhoods in Toronto, but in 2001 there were 23 very high poverty neighbourhoods. Between 1991 and 2001, there was a 100% increase in child poverty. Currently, 1 in 3 single parent families are living in high poverty neighbourhoods.

Changes in Poverty
Poverty has also changed in terms of who is poor. Even though Barry Gong was one of China’s top engineers, he now boxes plastic water bottles by hand. He even helped design a mega-stadium with a 60,000-seat stadium and a 13,000-seat indoor arena, 21 tennis courts and an Olympic size swimming pool. This is one of the many examples of a highly qualified person stuck with a low-paying and very boring job. If immigrants came to Canada with a degree they got in their own country, they would probably end up with 75% of the pay that a Canadian would if they had the same qualifications. Between 1981 and 2001, immigrants’ poverty went up by 125%.

Another change in poverty is the increase in visible minority poverty. In the high poverty neighbourhoods, 78% are visible minorities. In 1981, the visible minority poverty level was 20%. In 2001, it had increased by 10% to a level of 30%.

Causes of Poverty
The main causes of poverty are: high cost of housing and low paying jobs. The high cost of housing is very troublesome. One example is how a house with two floors (not including the basement), two bedrooms and a fireplace, is valued at $290,000. The description may make it sound big, but it is small. With housing prices way too high, you would expect welfare and pension to go up, but it still stays way too low. Also, out of all the people who own houses, 22.2% of them pay over 30% of their income on housing. Out of all the renters, 43.2% spend 30% of their incomes on housing. Another example is that in 2003, 71,625 families were on the social housing waiting list.

The second main cause of poverty is (as mentioned above) low paying jobs. Places like McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken don’t have unions and therefore the workers are paid very low. An example of a well paying unionized job is a TTC bus driver. TTC workers are well paid and have excellent benefits. People who rely on welfare, employment insurance and pensions are left poor because the rates are so low.

Solutions to Poverty
The 4 main solutions are: making housing affordable, providing livable income, jobs and retraining and social services. To make housing affordable, the senior levels of government will have to reinvest in non-profit housing. What the citizens can do is to help out co-ops, and help the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) with some of their programs. One of these is one that involves using old buildings that are abandoned as free housing for homeless people. If I was the government, I would reinvest in the items above. I would also also donate to OCAP, the United Way, and Make Poverty History.ca.

The second main solution to poverty is providing a livable income. The government can do this by increasing welfare, the minimum wage and pensions. This is what I would do if I was the government. The citizens can only really protest and vote for a party that promises to do the things above.

The third main solution is jobs and retraining. If the government helped retrain poorer people so they could get a good job, then the poverty rates would definitely go down. Also, if places like McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken got unions, then poverty would go down even more. Lastly, immigrants should get recognized for degrees they got in their home countries.

The last main solution to poverty is social services. These can only be supplied by the government and include: sports centres and art programs. I would make these kind of programs in poor areas if I was the government. These social services would mainly be directed towards youth and seniors.

In this project I have presented how poverty affects people and how it’s changed and grown. I have also shown some causes and solutions. One unresolved issue is the amount of money needed to end poverty. This money can easily be cut from the military budget. In 1989, the House of Commons promised to eliminate child poverty by 2000. Today, 1,000,000 children are still poor in Canada. My research showed me that poverty needs to be eliminated really soon.


Toronto. Toronto Report Card on Housing and Homelessness. Toronto: City of Toronto, 2003.

United Way of Greater Toronto and The Canadian Council on Social Development. Poverty by Postal Coed: The Geography of Neighbourhood Poverty, 1981-2001. Toronto: United Way of Greater Toronto, 2004.